Many people can no longer imagine life without a car - especially in automobile-crazy Germany. But Cologne is showing that it's possible to create car-free residential zones - even in urban centers.Neußer Straße in Cologne's city district of Nippes is more like a race track. People are constantly honking their horns, drivers speed through intersections, and car exhaust burns in people's noses. It's a lively, but congested part of town. Still, families move here most. Many of them live on an expanse of land of 4.5 hectares (around 11 acres) in size that was formerly railway property and five years ago was turned into a car-free residential area.Children play here and ride their bikes back and forth right in the middle of the street. Toys lie around everywhere. Small paths run between the blocks of two-to-four-story townhouses, while little courtyards are tucked in-between. It's an uncommon view to behold - being right in the middle of the city, yet having no cars around. Yet each house has a kind of driveway in front - where residents can park their bikes, go-carts or scooters.Six-year-old Oscar gets off his go-cart for a moment to explain what he likes most about neighborhood: "I have a lot of space to play here." That statement perfectly expresses what a group of Cologne citizens were aiming for 15 years ago, when they began work on creating an area in the city where kids could play feely on the street, without having to worry about traffic and be bothered by car exhaust and noise.But it took a decade for their idea to be turned into reality. One of the biggest hurdles was convincing politicians in Cologne's city council that a car-free residential area in Cologne was imperative, said Hans-Georg Kleinmann, one of the project's creators. Residents like to call him the unofficial mayor of their estate.Another of the hurdles in building the car-free settlement was the law governing garages. According to the edict, for every apartment created, a certain number of parking spaces must be made available. But of course residents in the car-free zones did not want them.The greatest challenge of all, however, said Kleinmann, was the deep-seated belief among politicians that people cannot live without cars.The Welschoff Family is convinced that not having a car is an entirely viable way of living and will take hold in future. Werner Welschoff, a teacher, and Meike, his wife and the principal of a primary school, are in their early 40s. They've been living in the car-free settlement with their sons, Leonard and Lander, for the past four years. Meike recalls the first time she and her husband allowed their kids to play outside alone, while they unpacked moving boxes. "We said back then: 'Just for this one week alone it's been worth the move.'"It was difficult at first getting used to the idea that one really can't have a car in the car-free neighborhood. Now, however, they know how to master every-day life even with an automobile. They don't go buy in bulk anymore, but instead, do their shopping daily as needed.And if they do need to transport something big and unwieldy, they go to the so-called "Mobility Center" on the estate's periphery. It's a pavilion residents set up where they can rent trailers for their bikes, a wheelbarrow or a go-cart for the kids.The Welschoff Family does not agree with the notion that kids who live in the car-free zone are at greatest risk because they're not used to the traffic. On the contrary, said Werner Welschoff - while his children ride their bikes to school throughout the year, many of their schoolmates are taken by car. "My son has to deal with the traffic all the time, so I think he is probably a lot more familiar with the rules than his classmates."The teacher believes that the kids are becoming more confident, curious and independent growing up in the car-free neighborhood because they can move around more freely. In other places in the city, parents must constantly watch after their offspring because of all the traffic.Still, what parents and their children would like to have more of are playgrounds and park areas in the car-free district. It's a wish that is also supposed to be taken into consideration in further planning - since demand for houses and apartments here is great, another row of buildings is currently going up.The residents in the car-free neighborhood are not completely adverse to vehicles, either, and do not have to go completely without them. Dump trucks and moving vans are allowed in, and many residents have cases of bottled water and drinks delivered.Twenty percent of the some 400 households are permitted to have their own car, according to a municipal directive. Car owners must pay 16,000 euros ($22,000) to purchase a parking spot in a garage on the edge of the settlement.The drive for a car even grips the Welschoff Family at times, "like when we want to go on vacation to the coast in the Netherlands," Meike Welschoff said. "Taking the train there is pretty difficult." But even if they rent or borrow a car to travel there, once they've arrived, the first thing they do is rent bikes to see the sights.